Understanding Your FAFSA Student Aid Report and EFC

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FAFSA student aid report

You’re almost there. You’ve submitted college applications and the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Now you’re waiting to hear from admissions committees, thinking about high school graduation, and making plans for your last summer before college.

In the meantime, you receive the FAFSA Student Aid Report, which lists your expected family contribution. So what is this report, and what do the figures really mean?

What is the Student Aid Report?

The Student Aid Report gives basic information about your financial aid eligibility. The report includes your expected family contribution (more on that below), your answers to questions on the FAFSA, and your four-digit data release number. If your FAFSA was incomplete, you won’t receive an EFC; instead, you’ll get instructions on how to resolve any remaining issues with your application.

Where can you find it?

If you filed your FAFSA electronically, you can view your report as soon as your application is processed by logging in to FAFSA on the Web. To do this, you’ll need an FSA ID. If you submitted your FAFSA online after May 10, 2015, you should already have an FSA ID, which replaced the Federal Student Aid PIN. If you don’t have an FSA ID, simply visit the Federal Student Aid website to create one.

If you submitted a paper version of the application, you’ll receive an email with instructions for viewing your report online. If you didn’t provide an email address, then look for a Student Aid Report acknowledgement in the mail.

What should you do with your report?

Review your Student Aid Report carefully and make sure all the information you have provided is correct. That information determines your EFC and your eligibility for federal student aid, so it’s crucial that it’s accurate and up to date.

If the information on your report is incorrect, you’ll want to update it as soon as possible. To fix small mistakes in your mailing address, school codes and other such details, log in to fafsa.ed.gov with your FSA ID and enter the correct information. Larger mistakes, such as the wrong Social Security number, could require you to submit a new FAFSA.

If your financial situation has changed — perhaps your parents’ income this year will be substantially less than last year — talk to the financial aid office at the school you plan to attend. You can’t update that information on the FAFSA, but it’s critical in determining your financial aid package.

What does EFC mean?

Expected family contribution measures your family’s ability to help pay for college and is used by schools to determine a student’s financial need. Your parents’ income, investments and other assets are used to calculate your EFC using a formula mandated in the Higher Education Act of 1965. The number of people in your family and whether any of them are also attending college in a given year are also factored into the equation.

How does your EFC affect what you’ll pay for school?

College financial aid staff use your EFC to determine your financial need. They take the school’s total cost of attendance (tuition, fees, room and board, etc.) and subtract your expected family contribution to calculate the maximum amount of need-based aid you’re eligible to receive. So if a school’s total cost of attendance is $20,000 and your EFC is $4,000, you qualify for up to $16,000 of need-based aid via programs such as the federal Pell Grant, federal Perkins loan, direct subsidized loan and the federal Work Study program.

But there is no guarantee you will receive the full amount. That’s because some programs, including Pell Grant and work study, have limited funds available each year. And colleges aren’t required to meet 100% of a student’s demonstrated financial need (the total cost minus your EFC). When this happens, students are left with a gap that schools often suggest filling with non-need-based aid, such as the direct unsubsidized loan and the federal PLUS loan. Students can also search for scholarships to help close this gap.

Kelsey Sheehy is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: ksheehy@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @KelseyLSheehy.

This post was updated. It was originally published on Feb. 28, 2013.

Image via iStock.

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